Dropping In

There is a euphoric sense of freedom the moment a skier, standing on the precipice of a mountain, leans the tips of his skis ever so slightly downward to initiate descent, allowing both body and spirit to embrace gravity’s deliverance from stasis. The movements that follow—the intentional and gentle shifting weight and balance ballet that ensues—produces a harmonic flow of splendor that feels as if you are seamlessly connected to both heaven and earth; as if your skis have become wings. These moments of connectivity with nature offer the magnificence of pure bliss.

Today, the bliss of dropping in is just a cherished memory. Today, the precipice seems more like a ledge with nothing but the peril of loss waiting below. And yet, drop in we must. Yes, there may be pain and loss and plenty of stress, but remaining on the ledge addled by rumination is no way to live.  As my friend, Roger Cohen, of The New York Times argued, “there is no way out but through.”

Getting “through” requires a full heart and a clear mind, but we humans have a spectacular capacity to compromise both. We prefer the comfort of ignorance to the challenge of truth.  We crave delusional affirmation when what we need is the clarity of reckoning. We stubbornly remain fixed on chosen pathways even while the stress of mounting anxiety is itself screaming in our ear: Hello! Change course! You are headed off a cliff!  Psychosis wraps its tentacles around our ankles as we wonder why our gait becomes staggered. The result is a malaise of disorientation—born of magical thinking—that leaves us whipsawed between exuberance and depression.

In the coming weeks, now that the campaign starting gun of Labor Day has passed, we will be subject to a barrage of deceits and distractions aimed at keeping the pot of disorientation at a roiling boil. Some of us will be tempted to reach up for the ledge to scramble back to safety. Others will bury their heads in the sand.  However, this is not the time for retreat or apathy.  If we want to get back on the precipice, aiming our skis toward bliss, we must defeat those intent on crushing the soul of this country. We must fight for truth and honor and dignity. As Abraham Lincoln implored, “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”

More than any time in history, your vote and the votes of your friends and family must be cast, regardless of the many efforts made to confuse you and deter you from doing so. You are not being asked to put your life at risk, as prior generations were. Do your civic duty. Just vote, damn it, VOTE.

By |2020-09-08T15:04:01+00:00September 8th, 2020|Current, General, Recent|0 Comments

The Great Suffering

For the Irish, life is suffering and suffering is life.

In times like these, I am pleased to be blessed with Irish blood that carries antibodies to suffering.  Those of you who know me personally—beyond the words I post here—know that 2020 has been an emotional challenge for me (to say the least).  The trending Twitter hashtag, #IHATE2020 barely begins to address my sentiment.  “Make it stop!” has been my go-to plea as night-terrors penetrate the vulnerability of darkness.  Yet, I know I have it so much better than others who are enduring not just emotional torment, but also suffer physical and financial peril.   Alas, as the Irish proverb goes, “Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright—it’s not the end.”  Sadly, I expect I and we are some distance from the end.  But, there is a way out.

This period of crisis in American history seems to throw us one hand grenade after another.  9/11, the War on Terror, and the Great Recession were plenty.  Unfortunately, we largely met these challenges with deceit and greed, which is probably why we were granted an extra dose of pain.  The current period of Great Suffering that followed, escorted and twisted and amplified by Donald Trump, should provide the requisite shock to force us to reckon with the gradual but certain degradation of American values that took nearly four decades to roost. In 2020, roost turned to ravage.

All of the world’s great religions hold that we should treat each other as we wish to be treated ourselves—the so-called Golden Rule.  However, there is another common tenet of world religions that is equally relevant today: we must fall in order to rise.  As the Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr, argued in Falling Upward, “falling, losing, failing, transgression, and sin” are prerequisites to rebirth—to ascension from despair.  In Christian theology, there can be no resurrection until after crucifixion.  He notes that Buddhism observes this phenomenon perhaps more clearly than Christianity when he wrote, “suffering does not solve any problem mechanically as much as it reveals the constant problem that we are to ourselves, and opens up new spaces within us for learning and loving.”  So, may we please let the learning and loving begin?  Please?!

There are many—too many—days I feel helpless to arrest the descent of America into a swirling cauldron of darkness.  I know many of you feel the same.  However, the marathon of malicious narcissism we have endured over the last four years can be over soon, if we do the work of redemption.  The citizens of what once was the greatest country in the world must rise up by rejecting the sinister policies of our president who seeks to destroy our spirit and unity in favor of stroking his fragile ego and lining his family’s pockets with wealth and power.  Enough is enough.

The way out is this: we must share in each other’s suffering if we have any hope of uniting and expelling the evil that is Donald Trump.  We must accept—even embrace—the suffering of victims of violence, of Covid-19, of economic and social injustice.  Their suffering must become ours if we are to rise.  Burdens must be shared to be overcome.  I have become convinced this is the only way forward to unite our country and achieve redemption and renewal.  We must not just stand up for ourselves, we must stand together by injecting compassion and responsibility back into individualism.  Only then will the powers aligned against us—from within our country—be vanquished.

Oh, and vote, damn it, VOTE!

By |2020-09-08T15:04:19+00:00September 1st, 2020|Donald Trump, General|0 Comments

Darkest Before the Dawn

In the midst of the grip of the dog days of summer, it seems odd to write about darkness, but the news of the day provides little, if any, rays of light.  Even in the West, what sun there is has become shrouded by a season of smoke from raging wildfires—a climate-change reality that has become an unsolicited summer norm.

Mid-August 2020 may be remembered as the moment we began our descent into a seemingly bottomless inkwell of darkness.  Between a botched Covid-19 response, rampant civil and economic injustice, violence, suicide, and murder escalating across the country at astounding rates, a climate that threatens to consume us, and national leadership drowning in its selfishness and incompetence, it feels like layer upon layer of tribulation may suffocate any light of hope to rescue us from overwhelming uncertainty and peril.  Heading into a hidey-hole like a stunned groundhog in February sounds nearly inviting.  Or, as Michelle Obama suggested, when they go low, just stay high, America!  (I may not have gotten that exactly right.)

And yet, as the English theologian, Thomas Fuller, suggested in 1650, “it is always darkest just before the day dawneth.”  The proverbial sun will rise again.  I promise.

We must also remember that America has been here before.  Not exactly here of course, but in similar dire straits.  That edge of fire that breaks the horizon that expands to overtake darkness will, eventually, lead us out of our current crisis.

After the improvident period of idealism that granted easement to the charlatans and grifters of the middle 19th century, we endured a Civil War that nearly ended the American experiment of a democratic republic.  Yes, it could have ended America, but it didn’t.  We went on to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and create the land of opportunity that doubled our population due to a mass influx of immigrants that quite literally filled America with life and hope.

Following the avarice of the next period of idealism—the Roaring Twenties—that ended with a stock market crash that launched the Great Depression and allowed fascism and evil to sweep Europe and much of Asia during World War II, America once again found the light of hope to ascend on the world stage, this time as a superpower.

The current crisis—the Age of Deceit—marked by the War on Terror, the Great Recession, a 100-year pandemic and a president who is, himself, the existential threat to the republic, was born from the third period of idealism (1980 – 2003) where, once again, affluence twisted our collective character into a braided whip of narcissism, entitlement, and hubris.  A whip we have turned against ourselves with remarkable vehemence.  As with all crises in our history, this one is self-inflicted.  Which also means—through humility and will power—we can transcend it.

We are nearing the end of the current crisis.  How do I know? Because it is time.  American crises (and this is our fourth) last 15 to 20 years.  We are in year 17 of the Age of Deceit.  I expect 2021 will be a race toward renewal; that is, if we are successful in, among other things, affecting a wholesale cleanout of our national leadership.  We need a Washington, Grant, or Eisenhower to deliver us from crisis.  What follows next, if American history rhymes, is a period of objectivism to succeed crisis, which are historically marked by realism, rationalism, and humanism. And, for Baby Boomers, maybe even one last shot at tranquility before we leave America for good.

Last week, David Brooks of The New York Times provided an (unwitting) endorsement of the coming shift toward objectivism when he wrote,

Radicals are good at opening our eyes to social problems and expanding the realm of what’s sayable.  But if you look at who actually leads change over the course of American history, it’s not the radicals. At a certain point, radicals give way to the more prudent and moderate wings of their coalitions.

He closed by invoking one of the greatest thinkers in the history of the modern era, Isaiah Berlin, who laid claim to the light that exists in that seam of possibility that occupies the “extreme right-wing edge of the left-wing movement.”  Where the surety of objectivism lives.

The next few months will be rough.  At times, it will seem as if the light will never come to erase the darkness of despair and loss.  But, come it will.  Many will fight mightily to herald a new dawn.  To them, we will owe a deep debt of gratitude in much the same way we owe those who delivered us from the tyranny of King George III, defeated the treasonous Confederate army in the Civil War, and vanquished fascism in the 1940s.

For the rest of us, we have (at least) one solemn duty: vote, damn it, VOTE!

By |2020-09-01T15:22:52+00:00August 18th, 2020|General, Recent|0 Comments

But the Greatest of These is Love

As the swelter of heat and humidity hang like a shroud of interminable anguish over our suffering nation, the time has come to end the long nightmare that has become America’s fall from grace.

To those who continue to ignore the realities of this pandemic by following the path of selfishness, I have no words for you.

To those who remain committed to the evil of racism, misogyny, bigotry and self-righteous intolerance—whether on the political left or right—I have no words for you.

To those who express their privilege without hesitation or consciousness while ignoring the agony of their fellow Americans, I have no words for you.

To those who look with indifference at brown babies being separated from their mothers who are trying to save their families under the long shadowy gaze of the Statue of Liberty that welcomed your family to America, I have no words for you.

To those who enable men of power to ignore their solemn oath to honor the rule of law and the Constitution of the United States, I have no words for you.

And to you, President Trump, we have suffered your wrath more than any of us deserved. You have actualized the American carnage you promised during your inauguration.  To you, only these words remain: please, for the good of the country and the world, TAKE YOUR LEAVE NOW.

For all the rest of you who remain committed to American values and virtue—who still believe in the American Dream—I have these words for you: respect, love and hope.

I respect your discipline and your sacrifice.  I respect that in the face of anguish and seemingly insurmountable odds, you have extended your hand to support your neighbors.  I respect that you speak not of your losses and tribulations, but of what you can contribute to alleviate the suffering of others.  I respect that you too are scared, but somehow manage to leave your fear buried beneath your courage.

I love that you remain stalwart defenders of compassion in the face of hate—that you continue to project love to trump hate.  The great American theologian, Paul Tillich, taught us that love is the most important factor in transforming power into justice.  Justice needs power and power needs love; without love there can be no justice.  This may be the most simple and elegant equation ever constructed in the history of the world.

I hope, as I expect you do, that Americans like yourselves will save us from those for whom I have no words.  I hope that we will transcend the petty, divisive, and dangerous leaders who currently abuse the levers of American power.  I hope that we will succeed in reimagining America and relight the “city on a hill” established by John Winthrop upon arriving at what became the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 17th century.  I hope we can keep the dreams of every child alive, that they may succeed us in becoming masterful stewards of humanity.

The next several months are fraught with certain peril.  May respect, love and hope serve each of us as we endeavor to save America.

 

By |2020-08-18T17:40:34+00:00July 27th, 2020|Donald Trump, General, Recent|0 Comments

The Allure of Madness

As the country descends into chaos, driven by a mix of structural inequities and a ruthless pandemic that requires leadership far beyond the grasp of Trump World, we each have a choice: stand in resolution guided by values and virtue, or hitch a ride on a comet of madness toward a romanticized return to a mythical normal that will never be normal again. Regression—the fantasy of returning to yesterday—is the fault line of the selfish and uninspired. Progress requires clear-minded honesty and transcendent courage acknowledged with the certainty of sacrifice.  It has been curious, and at times shockingly sad, to watch which path people choose.

Standing to reestablish and actualize values and virtue is difficult work; an often gut-wrenching undertaking unaccompanied by the prospect of immediate reward. It requires a deep sense of self, based in the hardened steel of dignity to suffer sacrifice with eyes fixed on an aspirational horizon of fortitude. The other choice, escaping—riding the comet—renders the allure of madness; to thumb one’s nose at reality while indulging the impulse of selfishness. To ignore science and party with friends at old watering holes. To expect our institutions to suddenly rise up to save us as we spiral into self-absorption. To run away to the fantasy of a romanticized past—however distant and fanciful—to alleviate the quarantine blues.

As we stare at the last days of this crisis—the Age of Deceit—the selection process is underway.  The list of individuals, companies, organizations, and governments that comprised yesterday’s heroes—those we held in the highest regard—will undoubtedly be selected for or against as a new list is revealed.  The wonderboys of yesterday, like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, are destined to become the pariahs of tomorrow. Companies that take their direction from investment bankers and tightly-wound lawyers may find their fortunes plummet as stewardship gains favor over exploitation. Those who bayed loudly from the pulpit to extol the promises of a white Christian nationalist renewal will be forced to reconcile their sermons, laced with more hate than love, as the offering trays return empty from the few left to listen. And governments will, once again, come to realize that leadership starts with service.

As I wrote in Saving America in the Age of Deceit, “the rudder on America’s ship of liberty [is] dangling from its hull.”  Out of greatness we have managed to create a stew of despair, dissonance, and dread.  Those who have succumbed to the impulse of selfishness—who embraced the allure of madness by grasping precariously onto the tail of the comet—will be forced to trade their gratuitous binge for the sober reality of tomorrow.  Those who set aside feeling good for doing good—the stouthearted and most resilient among us—will chart the new course of history.  Which are you?

By |2020-07-27T20:16:46+00:00July 19th, 2020|General, Leadership|0 Comments

Saving America in the Age of Deceit

On this 105th day of March (or so it seems), we are nearly as close to election day as we are from the start of the pandemic, back when the novel coronavirus was supposedly a problem contained in a wet market in China, until it wasn’t.  To say things are a bit manic in America today is regrettably an understatement.  And while none of us (save perhaps Bill Gates) foresaw the pandemic, the economic, social and political upheaval that also feeds the current state of mania has been building for years.  The cycles of American history nearly guaranteed this moment.

Those of you who have followed my blog for the last ten years know that I warned of the probable rise of wannabe fascists in my post on March 12, 2010 titled, “The Next Neo: Neo-fascism.”  As America slid further in the direction of favoring deceit over character, culminating in the Trump presidency, I decided, in the spring of 2017, to take several threads of research I had been working and melding it into a narrative to explain how we got into this mess and how we can get out of it.  The result is now available at Amazon in both e-book and paperback, Saving America in the Age of Deceit.

Of Saving America in the Age of Deceit, Roger Cohen, columnist of The New York Times wrote,

“At once an incisive history and a guide to national recovery, William Steding’s Saving America in the Age of Deceit is an important book. It traces the American moral collapse that produced Donald Trump with remarkable clarity. Perfectibility became entitlement, exceptionalism turned to hubris, and narcissism supplanted individualism. With a historian’s sweep and a stoic’s determination, Steding traces a path to recovery of the American spirit through restored leadership, responsibility and sense of community. Erudite and readable, this unusual work inspires hope, for individuals and the nation alike.”

What a mensch.

So, please, reach into that purse of excess cash Trump gave us all to stimulate the economy and help support aging writers like me—$8.95 for an e-book or $14.95 for paperback.  Or, just read the last ten-plus years of blogposts at ameritecture.com and you will see many of the threads.  Although every day I face a country and world that seem less recognizable than the previous day, I also have faith in the American spirit and in our humanity.  The day I don’t is when I will enter a psychedelic pharmacology research program as a willing lab rat; or, rather than go fishing, I will stay fishing.  Or, both!

American Deliverance—an Introduction

What follows here is a draft introduction of my next book, American Deliverance: Restoring the American Dream in the Post-Trump Era. I am sharing it with subscribers to provide an historical context and outlook on the question, What now?  I hope to have it completed and published before we need it!

American Deliverance: Introduction

I was born in 1957, the peak birth year for Baby Boomers and the year the Soviets launched Sputnik into space which, just thirteen years after vanquishing the fascists of World War II, shocked Americans into the reality that yet another existential threat loomed on the horizon, this time led by the hydrant-sized gap-toothed Nikita Khrushchev.  As Elvis Presley’s gyrations on the Ed Sullivan Show blushed the cheeks of women viewers and left network censors chewing the insides of theirs, Dwight Eisenhower, the twelfth and last military general to become president of the United States, began his second term.  Although 1957 marked the end of the interregnum of relative tranquility between existential threats—between World War II and the heightening of Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union—the late 1950s and early 1960s also thrust the United States from a somewhat clumsy pubescent world power to a full-throated superpower in the international system.  The so-called Camelot years of the administration of John Kennedy became the debutante moment for America’s coming-out ascension on the world stage.  America’s aspirational hegemony—sometimes real and at other times fantasy—was challenged by the Soviets and their proxy states for the next thirty years. Once Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika—accompanied by Soviet misadventures in Afghanistan— caused the Soviet model to collapse in 1991, America became the world’s lone superpower.  What followed was what many historians and political scientists refer to as America’s unipolar moment.  With all existential threats once again vanquished, it was up to Americans to lead the world, or to squander its power through fits of hubris and incurious negligence.  Unfortunately, the latter prevailed.

America’s external threats, however, like the fascist regimes of the early twentieth century and the Soviet menace that followed, were not the threats that ultimately placed American power in peril.  It was the unforced errors of American leadership, the apathy of the American electorate, and fundamental inversions of American values and practices that pushed the United States from its pinnacle of power.  In the realm of foreign affairs during America’s superpower era, engaging militarily in Vietnam was the first egregious error.  Kennedy and, moreover, Lyndon Johnson, justified U. S. involvement in Vietnam by the simplistic fear of a cascading domino-effect of communism that might somehow propagate to American soil some 8,600 air miles away but which, of course, never made it within 8,500 air miles of reaching American shores (even though the Viet Cong succeeded in running the U.S. out of the country).  The second grand mistake in foreign affairs followed the events of 9/11 when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney allowed emotional vengeance in Bush’s case, and a chicken hawk’s romanticized thirst for bloodletting in Cheney’s case, to cast a criminal act—9/11—as an act of war.  The power of law enforcement, which would have been supported by most of the world outside of Osama bin Laden’s circle of power, was set aside for neoconservative delusions of American grandeur that resulted in the isolation of the United States from its allies and cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.  Even today, some fifteen-plus years later, a final accounting of this exercise in imperial overreach cannot be summed.  Victory—which was never clearly defined by Bush or Barack Obama—remains an elusive fantasy.  These unforced errors are, however, only a part of the story of American decline.

Apathy in American politics is nothing new, although the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate era was marked by Americans taking a long—forty-plus year—vacation from politics.  Fatigued by the social and political upheaval of the 1960s and by broad cynicism toward government following Watergate, more than half of Americans disengaged from politics.  This abdication of civic duty was compounded by the effects of accelerating affluence that lulled Americans into a lethargic state of stewardship of American values.  This American stupor also allowed the degradation of traditional Constitutional protections by political maneuvering like the legal (but-not-right) acts of gerrymandering in Congress, and extraordinary rulings by the United States Supreme Court, like Citizens United, that compounded the concentration of power among the moneyed class of American corporatists, including Charles and David Koch. This stupor allowed the future to be directed by the few who remained engaged and enraged; by extremists who seized the levers of power and by those who could afford to purchase even more power.  Notwithstanding the apparent progress marked by the election of America’s first African American president, Obama, in 2008, by the elections of 2016 the rudder on America’s ship of liberty was dangling from its hull.

Leadership issues and this general electoral malaise accentuated by rising affluence in the late stages of the twentieth century also compromised three critical American dispositional values that had helped the U.S. rise from ‘The Land of the Free’ following the American Revolutionary War, to ‘The Land of Opportunity” following the Civil War, to its ‘Superpower’ position after World War II.  Individualism, or the notion that Americans were possessed of free will and took responsibility for its expression thereof, was replaced by narcissism.  Perfectibility, or the idea that Americans always strive to make things better than the way they were found, was exchanged for an adolescent sense of entitlement.  And, exceptionalism—the exemplar kind—where Americans attempted to set the example for others to follow, was set aside for hubris.  The upheaval associated with flipping these values to their evil-twin modality allowed, among other things, the election of what psychologists have termed the “malignant narcissism” of Donald Trump as president.  And, as evidence of the power of the presidency and the servile behaviors of Republicans who controlled Congress, Trump was allowed to inflict much more damage on America and the world than any of his forty-four predecessors.

The question for the post-Trump era is, What now?  The broad answer lies in how we address the question, What does it mean to be an American?  More specifically, what values do we choose to support moving forward and what is the story they tell about our fundamental identity?  In the period of cyclical crisis we emerge from today, the values we embrace and the manner in which we execute them will determine whether America moves forward as the world’s steward of goodwill, or discards its legacy becoming—simply and tragically— the next empire to be tossed into the dustbin of history.  The stakes are high and the outcome uncertain.  But, as I will argue in what follows here, among the elements of success are: a return to political engagement, most importantly at the state and local level; a commitment to personal and collective moral resilience; and the reconstitution of authenticity and virtue.  In short, this is what I refer to as leading from the soul.

By |2018-09-01T18:06:31+00:00July 20th, 2018|General|0 Comments

Your Gift

We arrive in this world by circumstance and spend much of our life trying to reconcile the gift.  We endure our struggles and ascribe our lot with the certainty of burden.  Between the jubilation, pain and occasional humility we scrape a path that is ours, alone.  In the seam of these struggles life offers brilliance: the warmth of late summer’s sun quenching our shoulders as we gaze across a horizon of promise; the magical touch of a child’s hand who clasps ours for comfort; the flash of a smile from a heart who loves ours, too.  We are placed here to express a life all our own.  Tear away the wrapping; therein lies the gift.

Our choices are many, perhaps too many.  Some wring their hands over pearlized ivory or satin cream, over the eight-place setting or twelve.  Some pay others to tell them how to dress, behave, and raise their children.  Some find decision making an unbearable burden, fearful of those who may judge their choices as wrong.  Still others among us are addled by success; frozen by a world we herald as great. Those who understand their gift grant short shrift to such contrivances and lean forward into tomorrow.

Every morning offers beauty.  Every day arrives as a clean slate, if we look past the indelible erasures.  When the sky is dark, the wind unyielding and the news dire, there is reason to smile.  We each possess the promise of greatness: to thrust our spirit into the light where our gift can shine.  The choice is ours, in this moment and every moment that follows.  Look at that person who stares back at you in the morning mirror and accept your gift.  Draw those near who nourish your soul.  Let others pass.

This season, take a morning walk in the silence of new-fallen snow; lift a child upon your knee and tell them a story about your grandfather; sit outside at night until the sky throws a star your way.

Listen.

Love.

Laugh.

Embrace your gift.

By |2017-05-27T17:17:59+00:00December 23rd, 2016|General|0 Comments
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